The New England Patriots could potentially entertain trading running back Damien Harris, according to a report from Sports Illustrated’s Albert Breer. Harris is entering a contract year in which he’ll earn a base salary of approximately $965,000, per Spotrac. Harris is due for a significant raise in pay next season. It may not arrive in New England.
Despite warranted speculation regarding his long-term outlook, the Patriots would be wise to keep Harris for the upcoming campaign.
Harris exploded last season, leading the Patriots in carries (202), rushing yards (929), and touchdowns (15). All three statistical outputs were career highs for Harris. His 15 touchdowns tied for second in the NFL, trailing just the rushing champion Jonathan Taylor.
The Patriots have questions all across their offense following the offseason departure of offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels, coupled with Bill Belichick’s decision to place the offensive play calling in the hands of the defensive-minded Matt Patricia. All of these developments insinuate the Patriots will likely field a run-heavy offense for the third consecutive season in 2022.
Sophomore quarterback Mac Jones isn’t expected to drop back on 35-plus occasions on a weekly basis. The Patriots averaged 126.5 rushing yards per contest last season. It was the league’s eighth-best rushing output. That type of volume requires multiple backs. The Patriots have that in place and Harris should remain the focal point.
The Patriots’ rushing attack will likely feature a timeshare between Harris and Rhamondre Stevenson. Stevenson handled 133 carries for 606 yards and five touchdowns last season, adding an additional 14 receptions for 123 receiving yards via the passing game. Stevenson is poised to be more involved in his second season, but the Patriots are likely envisioning a one-two punch as opposed to trading Harris and handing the reins entirely over to Stevenson.
The original report didn’t come as a shock. The Patriots spent the offseason preparing for Harris’ eventual departure. Belichick rarely pays above market value to re-sign his own homegrown talents, often opting to replace them with younger, cheaper versions of themselves.
The running back room is crowded. The Patriots drafted two running backs this year. Pierre Strong Jr. joined via a fourth-round selection and South Carolina’s Kevin Harris was later drafted in the sixth round. Third-year undrafted running back J.J. Taylor is an option. The Patriots signed veteran journeyman Ty Montgomery earlier this offseason, who’s a similar swiss-army knife coming out of the backfield. The writing is on the wall for Harris, who could realistically be entering his final campaign as a Patriot.
The Patriots can’t realistically carry more than four ball carriers on the 53-man roster, which indicates several surprise releases and/or trades are coming. It certainly opens the possibility for the Patriots to entertain trading Harris, particularly if an inquiring franchise made a strong offer in the range of a 2023 third-round selection. It’s more than the Patriots would receive via a compensatory selection if Harris departed in free agency next offseason. That’s a best-case scenario from an offer perspective.
For a team with postseason aspirations, retaining Harris is the smarter choice. Harris should experience another excellent campaign in Foxboro. However, trade speculation may continue to run rampant leading up to Week 1 given his contract situation and New England’s abundance of running backs. Barring a shockingly good offer, the Patriots’ offense would be wise to keep Harris plenty involved in 2022 for their own purposes.
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